In a move that — if one pays attention to The Obama Administration’s economic polices — shouldn’t surprise anyone. First Lady Michelle Obama announced yesterday that she will be supporting an initiative that will allow the largest retailer in the world — along with other national chains — to bring their services to “food deserts.”
This declaration comes on the heels of a groundbreaking study, which suggested supermarkets do not help low income families battle obesity and other food-related illnesses effectively. By bringing in retail heavyweights like Wal-Mart and SuperVal-U, they are essentially creating larger fast-food depots.
Fast-food joints aren’t inherently bad; they offer government subsidized food at cheap prices to satisfy consumer demand and the profit margins for their stockholders, who expect short-term returns on their investment–basically, normal capitalistic behavior. The problem is that Wal-Mart stocks their shelves with same subsidized corn, soy, wheat, and factory-farmed meat which McDonalds serves.
The “food desert” issue is not solely about the lack of retailers, but it’s the lack of quality, local retailers. Large retailers do not offer enough affordable produce for consumers to have a fair choice.
“These changes will serve about 9.5 million people and could create tens of thousands of jobs,” says Melody Barnes, director of the Domestic Policy Council. Yes, these “job creators” will help the sagging economy but at what price?
Many policy makers want continue to blame citizens for their poor choices, but what they fail to take into account is that with worker’s wages stagnated, it creates limited choices by default. Not many people are realistically going to choose a $4 head of broccoli over the feeling of fullness that a fast-food value meal can gives them.
In a recent story published by Huffington Post, Janell Ross poignantly detailed the plight of many minorities and low-income, highly-educated workers, in regards to their lack of choice when it comes to their family’s diet:
Like millions of Americans who have suffered declines in their living standards as the jobless rate has climbed, Washington has found herself eating less-nutritious fare for the simple reason that quality food tends to cost more and take more time to prepare. Three or four nights a week, she and her son now complete a day spent shuttling between her part-time job, his school and her sister’s cramped apartment — their long-term “temporary” home — with dinner at a fast-food restaurant that caters to their craving for immediate calories at rock-bottom prices. She has put on more pounds than she is willing to discuss.
These stories are all too familiar today. No one is naming the problem–corporate and government policy melding into one entity–because of our adulation of President Obama. Yes, he is great man, but we have to hold him responsible for his economic policies. We are letting multi-national corporations feed us exclusively. The investment in small farms and local produce is being destroyed in favor of large Agri-Business partnerships.
While the First lady’s promised at her press conference to bring more fresh produce to these “food deserts,” she did not explain how this would happen.
According to USAToday, Wal-Mart will open 275 to 300 stores in food deserts between now and 2016, and already has opened 218 stores in such neighborhoods since 2007, says Leslie Dach, executive vice president of corporate affairs. “The Walmart customer deserves to have access to healthy food at prices they can afford,” Dach says.
The expansion is part of a comprehensive push by the retailer based in Bentonville, Ark., to promote healthier eating that also includes lower prices for premium products, such as whole wheat pasta, and support for charities.
With the recent rise in fuel prices, only the largest food retailers will survive if nothing is done–on a large scale–by the Obama Administration to restructure our food industry and economy at large. This is what will drive a new, green economy. If Wal-Mart and large retailers were interested in changing, they would have been part of the solution a long time ago.
This move, essentially, amounts to corporate welfare–similar to what the concessions the President made to the health care industry. Instead of standing firm to his purported progressive agenda, he succumbed to corporate bullying and lobbying.
President Obama gave health insurers three million more customers without addressing some of real problems in the health care industry. Obama was silent on many issues like high premiums, the increasingly high cost of medical school–which undoubtedly and understandably puts strain on new doctors that cause them to think about their pockets more than selfless care–and food-related illnesses and dis-eases that are placing an unprecedented and unnecessary strain on medical resources.
We have to push The Obama Administration to stay attuned to the people and not to corporate interests. It looks and sounds good to put the beautiful FLOTUS out in front of an obesity epidemic that needs compassion and reason from our leaders, but this plan will eventually bring out the ugliness that comes from people being dependent exclusively on large corporations for essentials of life.